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Introduction: The Role of Criticism in Interwar Musical Culture

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 July 2019

Barbara L. Kelly
Affiliation:
Director of Research and Professor of Musicology at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Christopher Moore
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Ottawa.
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Summary

Music Criticism in France, 1918–1939: Authority, Advocacy, Legacy examines the aesthetic battles, discursive strategies and cultural stakes that animated and informed French music criticism during the interwar period. Drawing on a rich corpus of critical writings and archival documents, the primary goal of its twelve essays is to uncover some of the public debates that emerged around classical music at this time. As such, it provides significant new insights into the period's musical priorities and values while also highlighting some of the challenges confronting this war-bound generation. The book examines the ways in which influential critics played prominent roles in promoting the careers and defending the reputations of both young and established composers. It considers the efforts that critics took to shape the history of France's musical past. Finally, it questions how critics used their professional and social affiliations as a means of better buttressing their own aesthetic and political agendas.

The interwar period in France is often described as problematic, more famous for the deaths of major figures including Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré and Camille Saint-Saëns than the achievements of its living composers. Until fairly recently it has been marginalised, in contrast to the ‘golden’ generation of Debussy and his circle on the one hand and the ‘renewal’ of French musical life with Olivier Messiaen on the other. Yet the ‘Années Folles’ are distinctive in several respects. Having inherited the pre-war musical aesthetics of Debussy and Fauré, but also confronted with the iconoclastic works of a new generation (including Les Six) who used the press to reject the aesthetics of its forebears, interwar French music critics were drawn into an acute battle over conservative and progressive musical trends. Whereas critics including Henri Collet (1885–1951), Paul Landormy (1869–1943) and Henry Prunières (1886–1942) energetically supported the works and aesthetic paradigms of the younger generations, figures such as Émile Vuillermoz (1878–1960), Léon Vallas (1879–1956), Dominique Sordet (1889–1946) and Lucien Rebatet (1903–72) frequently denounced the avant-garde and attempted to influence a musical climate for which they felt a fair measure of dissatisfaction. As a result, the period is characterised by often fraught debates around what it meant to be avant-garde and modern.

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Music Criticism in France, 1918–1939
Authority, Advocacy, Legacy
, pp. 1 - 16
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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